Equipped with a camera, a plane ticket to India, a relationship breakup and recent unemployment, talented, neurotic filmmaker Leon Siminiani has produced an intriguing debut with “Map.” Following several award-winning shorts, this deceptively artful travelogue uses the helmer’s Indian experiences as the platform for a look into those two often-entwined romantic obsessions, filmmaking and love. Such a description might make this sound like a recipe for navel-gazing tedium, but “Map” is actually witty and lively fare that uses a light touch, and reps buried treasure for independent fest auds.
After being fired from his TV job, Siminiani heads for India initially in search of material for a new feature, but his subject soon becomes the preparatory footage he’s shooting for the film. He travels from Delhi to Calcutta, with stops in various locations, urban and rural, musing in a deadpan, self-conscious voiceover about what he sees, seeking connections between his past and his present. For example, a girl bathing in the Ganges strikes him as the spitting image of what a former girlfriend must have looked like as a child.
Coming across a photo of Pasolini, the Italian novelist Alberto Moravia and his wife Elsa Morante on their own Indian travels, Siminiani decides he needs a female companion, and hesitantly sets about finding one, without much success. The helmer’s winsomely gauche, tousle-headed persona is one of the docu’s main attractions, and strikes a pleasant counterpoint with the sharply edited, polished feel of the film. One scene involving a local kid’s first interaction with a camcorder is an authentically laugh-aloud gem of spontaneous filmmaking; at other times, the pic is quietly political or melancholy.
Successfully balancing head and heart, the docu slips into self-absorption in its last third when, back in Spain to deal with a nation in financial meltdown and with his own romantic issues, Siminiani is no longer able to rely on striking, often surreal scenes of Indian life to break up his reflections. The pic’s last, strangely liberating scene reps the first in which anyone other than the director holds the camera.
Concerns about the potentially tedious, self-obsessed nature of the material and its big themes mostly evaporate in the face of the quick-thinking, witty asides and rapid, nervous pacing. The few lengthy, static shots used are meant as a parody of such shots. In one sequence, two years of real time are compressed into four minutes onscreen, a reminder that more than anything else, this is a docu about the process of making films — a fresh, vibrant record of a helmer feeling his way in what is for him a new format.
Matthew Sweet’s upbeat pop song “When You Look in the Mirror” is one of several musical and visual leitmotifs to which the deceptively cunningly structured pic often returns.
(Documentary – Spain) Reviewed at Cine Renoir, Madrid, Feb. 3, 2013. Running time: 85 MIN.
An Avalon release of an Avalon, Pantalla Partida Producciones production. (International sales: Avalon, Madrid.) Produced by Maria Zamora, Stefan Schmitz. Co-producers, Samuel Martinez, Mario Madueno.
Directed, written, edited by Elias Leon Siminiani. Camera (color, HD), Siminiani. Sound (Dolby Digital), Nacho Royo-Villanova.
With: Leon Siminiani.
(Spanish, English dialogue)